Years after Neil and Lore Van Lierop retired from producing one of Pierce County’s legacies of daffodils each spring, new life is springing up at the farm.
Local nonprofit Step By Step, led by Krista Linden, is making strides to fundraise the $1.5 million needed to buy the homestead and surrounding buildings. The organization serves 1,500 women each year in three counties.
Linden started the organization in 1997 after meeting Leeann, one of her students she got to know during a stint student teaching. Leeann suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, brought on from her mother’s heavy drinking throughout the pregnancy.
“I took her to the zoo one day after school and went to her apartment and her mom was there,” Linden said. “(Her) mom never came to parent teacher conferences or anything like that, but it was pretty awful experience seeing where she was living and the relationship with her mom. I took her to the zoo, and I all I could think about was taking her back to the situation. I never saw her again after that. I had my own daughter not too many years after that. When you have your own child, you look through different lenses, and so Leeann’s face haunted me as I thought about my own child in that situation.”
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Leeann was eventually removed from the home, and her two sisters were as well. But the whole experience of getting to know the girl changed how Linden thought about life going forward.
“I just knew that if there was anything that I was going to do with my time, it was to help encourage women during that time of pregnancy and those early months and years of bonding when so many connections are made in the brain,” she said.
Preserving a piece of Puyallup
Growing up in a farming family, Linden thought that if she was going to purchase a piece of property to help at-risk mothers, it would be on a legacy piece of property that she could help preserve.
“The Van Lierops have farmed this since the 1930s,” the mother of seven said. “When you’re on a piece of property like this, there is a sense of place and a sense of belonging. I really loved that about farms, especially when they have been in the same family for a long time.”
The nonprofit, which currently leases the property from the family, has until Aug. 14 to gather up the needed funds to officially purchase the property from the Van Lierops. Step By Step has agreed to pay $1.25 million to purchase the property.
“We are trying to raise $1.5 million to cover the rest of the expenses that go along with that,” Linden said. “We are working with the community, anybody and everybody that wants to be involved with helping.”
Linden and her staff hope to offer services similar to what Van Lierop’s customers are used to on the farm, including a cafe, wedding and event space, and a gift shop. The at-risk women the organization serves will help run the site.
“This may take 20 years to come to be, but we already have so much square footage that we can work with immediately,” she said. “We will have all the businesses run by professionals, because we want people to have a good experience when they come here. A lot of the women we work with have never had to interact with people in a customer service environment before.”
An event to help with fundraising efforts is opening the legacy piece of property to the public on May 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the farm, 13407 80th St. E. The pre-Mother’s Day cafe and tea event will provide opportunities to purchase gifts including flower bouquets hosted by the Daffodil Princesses, cards, pictures, gifts and children’s activities will also be available. There will also be raffle prizes.
“We would love to bring the community together for this event,” Linden said.
Van Lierop legacy lives on
Step By Step, according to Linden, has an agreement with the Van Lierop family that will enable the 77-year-old patriarch to live out the rest of his days on the property.
“(Neil) likes living here on the farm so we’re happy that we can work something out with them to live on the farm,” Lore said. “He can look out the window and see all of the fields. He’s been a farmer all his life, and it makes him feel really good. He could never move into a condo, that wouldn’t be for Neil. I wouldn’t like it either. I like to go outside and putter around. We have plenty to do here.”
Neil is hopeful that the legacy his family’s bulb farm started more than 70 years ago — teaching and training hundreds of people to work in the fields — will continue.
“We always used to teach ... we taught hundreds and hundreds of people to work,” he said. “This was in the old days, they used to pick berries or work in the bulbs and then the cannery jobs were the next step up. A lot of the kids that work here, they were a lot of good kids. One of them is our city manager (Kevin Yamamoto) — there’s people that went on to all kinds of things. We were teaching people all the time, and that’s exactly what Step By Step wants to do.”
While it was hard on the Van Lierops to keep up the work around the farm — combined with the mounting costs of labor — it wasn’t worth it for the duo to hang on to the farm, but 69-year-old Lore is happy the property will be put to good use.
“Krista has lots of plans; I’m all for it and everyone is all for it,” she said. “She has lots of good ideas and we’ll hope and pray that everything that they will get all the money they need.”
When Linden first started the organization nearly 20 years ago, all she hoped was to be involved in a few women’s lives and use the resources she had been given to open up doors of opportunities to other women.
“I get over whelmed when I think about how many women and children have been impacted and how many doors have opened up for us in spite of all I had going on with raising little ones,” she said. “My kids are 20 and in college, down to 6 years old, so it’s the first time in 20 years that I have had all of my children in school, so this is just perfect timing for me and my family. My kids love everything about what Step By Step does. I understand girls, I understand children, I understand all those balances with working and running a home, and I’m just completely grateful for the opportunity to do this.”
For more information on the event or Step By Step, visit stepbystepnews.org.